eNotes: Workers’ Compensation – July 2022 – Virginia
July 21, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
VA CASE SUMMARY
Sullivan v. United Continental Holdings, Inc.
Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission
Decided: June 2, 2022
When an airline worker fell on airport property not owned or managed by the airline, the injury was compensable even though it happened almost 300 feet away from the terminal building.
Claimant worked for United Airlines at Dulles Airport. Most employees parked in “Garage 2”, and walked through a covered walkway into the terminal. Employees were not required to park in Garage 2, and could park in any other area, but Garage 2 was the only free parking provided by the Airport. The Airport owned and operated the garage and the walkway (and United was not responsible for maintenance).
After parking in Garage 2, and while coming into the terminal walkway, Claimant suffered injuries when she slipped in water. The fall occurred just as she stepped into the walkway, and was roughly 270 feet from the terminal building. The carrier defended the claim on grounds that she was not in the course of her employment when the fall occurred. The Deputy Commissioner held that the injury was not compensable, as Claimant had “quite some distance to travel” before reaching the terminal building where she worked, and therefore the location of her fall was not sufficiently near the entrance to her workplace to be considered the extended premises of the employer. Claimant appealed.
In an opinion authored by Commissioner Marshall, the Full Commission reversed, finding that the terminal walkway was “in such proximity and relation as to be in practical effect a part of the employer’s premises,” that the injury still was in the course of employment. The Full Commission cited Prince v. Pan Am and other previous Court of Appeals cases, noting that it is not dispositive that the employer did not own or maintain the location of the fall. The Commission also cited cases involving falls on walkways that were “used as common avenues of passage over the grounds and were essential means of ingress and egress, such that they constituted the premises of another in such proximity.” The Commission dismissed Defendants’ plea to Hunton & Williams v. Gilmer, a case holding that the extended premises doctrine applies only where the employer has authority and control over the location, finding that it was strictly overruled by Prince. The Commission also contextualized the phrase “immediately surrounding” in terms of an airport; an airport is a large, sprawling complex that is unlike an office building. An area immediately surrounding an office may be 5 feet, but an area immediately surrounding an airport may be 500 feet.
Commissioner Newman concurred, finding that Prince controlled the outcome. However, he took issue with the notion that distance alone is the controlling factor. While Commissioner Marshall argued that the distance from the employer’s property was controlling (and that the acceptable distance was simply larger for an airport), Commissioner Newman argued that the determinative factor was “the character of the passageway” on which the injury occurs. He argued that if distance was the sole factor, he would have joined the dissent, but since the walkway here was in practice part of the employer’s premises, he reversed and found the fall compensable.
Commissioner Rapaport dissented, finding that the area was not in such proximity and relation to be a part of the employer’s premises, specifically because the fall was not sufficiently close and disagreed with the majority’s characterization that the walkway immediately surrounded the terminal.
Parking lot cases, and cases otherwise involving “the coming and going rule,” are expanding workers’ compensation exposure in jurisdictions across the country. Even though his opinion was the concurrence rather than the majority, I believe Commissioner Newman’s approach may end up being controlling moving forward. Since parking lot cases involve plenty of grey areas, and there is no bright line rule, these cases will be compensable if an area “feels” like it is the employer’s space.
Any questions regarding this case can be addressed to Mike Bliley, Esquire, at (571) 464-0435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.